Russ Ringsak

It's Real

November 7, 2012

Coming into central Indiana from Minnesota by way of Wisconsin you may choose to go through Chicago and take Interstate 65 south. Not far from Gary on the east side of the freeway, facing north, an ominously deep black billboard bears a brief message in ten bright bold white letters; three short words in simple Arial capitals:

HELL

   IS

REAL

That's it. No author, no biblical reference, no church; just a big old dose of reality. The "stop and think about it" message. And of course it worked on me. How could you not picture the person so concerned about how we're all acting that they would build such a sign and that they would think we'd change our ways. And of course if we don't shape up and we end up trotting off to hell, well at least we were warned. Not his fault we don't listen.

And it begs all manner of smart-aleck responses, such as "We're Not That Sure About Heck" Or "So Are Taxes," or "Don't Go There Because You're Not Going To Like It And You Can Trust Me On That." You think it might be a guy with a permanently angry wife, or vice versa. And you wonder if you should even comment because the person is obviously a serious person. And they care about you. They especially care about your soul.

And then you think, hey this is what it's all about. Citizens free to say their piece and other equally free citizens to offer lame and cynical humor in response. They might even be right. Especially with a word as large and vague as hell is. A bit later and not far from our hotel in Lafayette a softer message graced a sign on the lawn of a church:

REDISCOVER THE JOY OF BELIEVING

So now you wonder about a connection with the one on the freeway and is this a contradiction or an affirmation? Hell is real and it's a joy to finally believe in it again? So you can try to keep out of it? Or perhaps hell is real and if you catch the joy of believing you don't go there.

It's a college town. Concepts and ideas are right out where you can taste them and talk about them. Obviously hell is real as a synonym for misery, a lost love, finding yourself more overweight than you ever thought you'd get, your favorite team that looked so good in preseason now getting the stuffing kicked out of it. Endless possibles. Different hells for different folks.

This issue doesn't come up all that often, at least not to this reporter. It's been quite a while since anybody asked me about my views on hell. It was the power of the graphic. Had it been colorful or lyrical in presentation one wouldn't have given it a second thought. The giant stark block letters against the unforgiving black have power and its author understands it. It was a terrific graphics job. Not quite enough to bring our company big rig down to a sliding stop to take a picture, but close.

So you think about this and about what a huge and flexible language this is, and then on your way back north you pass a billboard facing south in the exact same white-on-black block letters, this one announcing: JESUS IS REAL. This of course takes a lot of ambiguity out of the first sign but I read that there is controversy as to whether Jesus ever said you'd go to hell for not believing. Or for anything. Personally, I feel lucky just to still be around after all these years; don't mean to be stirring the pot here, but that seems to be what the signs are for, and we're all for freedom of speech. Aren't we?

This was written just before the national election and by publishing time the uproar will be past the climactic moment or it will be in litigation. No doubt there will be enough opined in all directions to render my own take on it superfluous, but I'm pretty sure the result is going to feel like hell in big block letters for somebody.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There was a pumpkin drop here in this little river town a couple of weeks ago. People have been quietly raising big pumpkins for some time, not just around here but across the entire upper arc of the nation. Lately it's become more noticeable; I think it's the big pickups; guys like to have a reason to haul heavy stuff. A new world's record was just set at the 194th running of the Topsfield Fair in Topsfield, Massachusetts, according to a Huffington Post article posted by Amy Marturana on October 5th, 2012.

It was raised by Ron Wallace of Greene, Rhode Island, and weighed 2009 pounds; not only the heaviest pumpkin in history but also the largest fruit ever grown in the world. Ron won $5,500 for first place and a $10,000 bonus for breaking the 1-ton barrier.

Pumpkins are fruit because of the seed pod; technically they're berries and are related to squash and gourds. Cucumbers and melons and all that viney crowd. The big ones of today's county fairs are all evolved from seeds developed by one William Warnock, who in 1893 grew a pumpkin weighing 365 pounds. Shuffling through the web will tell one how to prepare your soil and how to tell a female from a male and to get in there and manage the fertilization and all that lusty stuff gardeners are hip to.

Check your vines, pick the fastest growing one or two and cut the rest loose, lay some kelp on there, and fish and molasses and calcium; plus compost teas, humic and fulvic acid. And of course you should monitor the ph, as with anything in life; we all know that. At the growing peak the giants can slurp up to 100 gallons of water a day and gain anywhere from 30 to 60 pounds in 24 hours. The secret to bringing on a giant is patience and constant attention. (I only just read this. Myself would be overworked trying to raise a dandelion and two thistle. A friend said the only thing he could ever grow was a plantar wart.)

The All New England Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off began in 1984 and was won by Wayne Hackney with a 433-pounder. Ninety years after Mr. Warnock's and only 68 pounds heavier. Things took off after that, with a 1337-pounder in 2002 and a 1689-pound winner in 2007.

Enough with setting the backdrop. Here in modest Stillwater it wasn't hard to spot the epicenter of the action, a crane with an 80-foot boom raised nearly vertical in the center of the parking lot near the bridge over the St Croix river.

Our small group was there because the grandkids wanted to see it, generally the best reason to do anything you wouldn't ordinarily do. Our monster gourd here set for sudden public execution weighed, they said, about 1100 pounds. It was unloaded from a fullsized pickup truck onto a folding canvas bag with loops at the top and a bottom floor that would open when the rope was pulled from below.

Pumpkins
Volunteers lounging on Death Row

A medium-density crowd was gathered around in a snow-fence safety corral beneath the high boom. The kids were encouraged to stand where the fence opened at the sides of the crane so as to have immediate access to Ground Zero once the bomb was dropped. A woman with a loudspeaker tried to rev the throng of us, without much response. Finally came the countdown from ten and at one the hangman pulled the cord and our big missile did exactly what we anticipated. You felt a heavy thump from the earth and they turned the kiddies loose to scrum in there and grab up seeds and flesh and we all looked at each other and smiled.

Pumpkin falling from crane
Executioner releases the trap

Kids rush to collect pumpkin pieces and seeds
The scavenger rush

Someone tells me the flesh is valued for thoroughbred horses and I'm thinking, "You mean a halfbred quarterhorse wouldn't touch it? Or that it's just too precious?"

They say the small ones are better for lanterns and pies. The big fellas can't hold a good circular shape and aren't good for carving into carriages. There is a website of guys blowing up giants with dynamite, usually a quarter-pound or less. It makes for some messy and amusing blasts, but dynamite carries unpredictable side effects that would discourage the careful persons with whom I generally associate from getting into it. We might go watch, though.

Another sport that harnesses pumpkins for competitive humor is primitive artillery, in the form of catapults and slingshots, and even cannons. A National Geographic site shows a recent meet in Delaware where the longest shot went 1728 feet.

Time to put this story away and go pay attention to the trends and the speculation, and to the battleground states; out where they hurl immense pumpkins over fields marked with horse manure.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

©Russ Ringsak 2012

russ dot ringsak at gmail dot com

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